Be Direct, Be Outspoken, Be Consistent: Why Brand Authenticity Matters | Marketing Maestros | Blogs | ANA

Be Direct, Be Outspoken, Be Consistent: Why Brand Authenticity Matters

June 17, 2019

By Vicki Brakl

Fanatic Studio/Gary Waters/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY/Getty Images

As Shakespeare wrote in Hamlet, "To thy own self be true." Brand authenticity is something that all consumers want to see, but what does it mean and why does it matter?

Being clear about brand values, and consistent in acting on them, should be at the heart of building any brand. Being transparent about why you do what you do is how brands build a customer base. Brands that misstep will pay a steep price in social. On the other hand, brands that do it right drive loyalty and enjoy a halo effect beyond their base.

Some brands make it look easy. Both Dove and Apple rarely waver in their vision, goals, or delivery. REI and Patagonia both show honesty and authenticity in their commitment to environmental causes — and consumers respond to those narratives. An authentic brand tells stories that are rooted in truth and behave in a way that honors that truth. When a truly authentic brand fails to meet expectations, it's transparent — apologizing in a heartfelt way that resonates with its customers. It takes ownership.

It shouldn't be hard, but some brands really struggle with authenticity. It seems obvious that a brand should know "who" it is, but to be successful in this arena, it must also know what audiences expect of it, and that's where things can get tricky. Brand marketers often rely on data to tell them what their customers want, what they don't want, and what honesty and authenticity will look like for their audiences. The smart ones know that to succeed, they should convey what their brand stands for and then use data to pull people in from there. Beyond that, a human touch needs to be infused. You can have all the data in the world but if brands don't take a moment to personalize messaging to who and where they are, the personal connection won't be made no matter how smart the analytics are.

Customer data can come from many sources, but first-party data should be the starting point for marketers. Information gleaned from a CRM or loyalty program can provide insight into what customers buy, when they buy, and how purchases and purchase behaviors differ from region to region and shopper to shopper. Layering that with data from other sources — like analytics, social data, and even historical location data can paint a clear picture for marketers of what loyal customers most love about their brand, products, and services. If you knew, for example, that your furniture line was purchased mostly by people who lived in apartments, how would that impact your product roadmap or your campaigns? If you knew your lingerie was purchased primarily by plus-sized women over the age of 40, would you still use 20-year-old models?

Data can pave the way to truth, but it's the analysis of that data by marketers that brings the journey to its productive end. Fashion brand M.M.LaFleur recently launched its first retail location, but the digitally-native retailer knew from data that its customers actually loathe shopping. "The challenge was: don't give them a regular retail store. They don't want product out there," according to Caroline Brown, director of experiential design for the brand. "Our stores are a place where she can come talk to a person, she can vent if she wants to. It's a quiet, calm place to do something as mundane as shopping for clothes for work." It seems counterintuitive for a retailer to open a store that doesn't focus on selling clothes, but M.M.LaFleur knows what its devotees expect — and it is committed to delivering.

That introduces a powerful final point: As in life, telling the truth as a brand can be scary. There are risks — like opening a store that isn't focused on sales. Or pulling popular brands from shelves because their parent company has holdings in a company that produces assault rifles, as Canada's MEC did last year. Or committing to removing artificial ingredients from the menu, as Panera Bread did, even if that means higher costs and shorter shelf lives. However, knowing your audience and what it wants mitigates risk, so data plays an important role. Honesty also mitigates risk, because to be trusted, a brand must also be honest.

As another brand has said, Just Do It. Take the risk. Be honest. Be truthful. Be the brand your customers want and expect you to be. Even when it doesn't seem conventional or even intuitive, let data and the voice of your customer be your guide. Trust that data, combined with the human touch, will empower you to be true to your brand promise.

Vicki Brakl is VP of integrated marketing at MNI Targeted Media.

The views and opinions expressed in Marketing Maestros are solely those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the ANA or imply endorsement from the ANA.

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